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Issue 80 - Contemporary Glimpses of a Bygone Era

Scotland Magazine Issue 80
April 2015


This article is 3 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Contemporary Glimpses of a Bygone Era

Charles Douglas visits Ardkinglas at Cairndow, on Loch Fyne, Argyllshire

It began in the first decade of the last century as the holiday dream of the Greenock-born physicist and armaments expert Sir Andrew Noble, latterly Chairman of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co of Newcastle upon Tyne.

A wealthy man, Sir Andrew, by then well into his 70s, had previosuly holidayed in Argyll and locally in Cowal. Built on land previously owned by the Campbells from the 14th Century, the present Grade A-listed Ardkinglas House, which replaced two earlier mansion houses, is one of only four houses designed by that iconic Scots architect Sir Robert Lorimer, and represents a remarkable coupling of wealth and creative genius.

Situated at the landward end of Loch Fyne and just over an hour's drive from Glasgow, the waterfront setting could not be more spectacular, with extensive views across the water and south towards to the hills of Kintyre. Sheltered by outstanding woodland and a landscape of remarkable beauty, it happily remains the family home of Sir Andrew's great-great grandson David Sumsion and his young family.

A practising architect himself, David Sumsion fully acknowledges the high standards that Lorimer employed. “Fortunately, money was not a hindrance and they had access to the very best materials in the world,” he reflected as we talked on the upper level of the former billiards room.

Flanked by an eclectic mix of period paraphernalia including a dangling Edwardian wall telephone and several striking examples of more contemporary tapestry and paintings hung on fine oak paneling, it was nonetheless difficult to avoid glancing through the windows at the loch and hills beyond. “Not that much has changed,” observed Jean Maskell, the estate manager. “We try to provide a glimpse of a bygone era along with the home comforts.”

Sir Andrew Noble purchased the Ardkinglas estate in 1905, and the new house was completed in 1907 after18 months of intense work. Lorimer, who fully grasped his client's urgent requirement for a castellated mansion built with local granite and Caithness slate, simply got on with it at speed. Remarkable in its decorative details acquired from the Art Nouveau and Scottish Arts and Crafts movements, all of the ornate light fixtures, fire places, door handles and keyholes were personally supervised by the architect himself. Set into the windows of the pillared upper hall are stained glass clan crests linking the Nobles to their romantic Scots ancestry.

Following Sir Andrew's death in 1915 aged 84, summoned it was said “By the roaring of stags in Glen Kinglas,” his fourth son, Sir John Noble, who became a baronet in 1923, made Ardkinglas his home. When he died in 1938, the estate was run by his two younger sons John, who succeeded to the baronetcy, and Michael, who later became a distinguished Secretary of State for Scotland. During the Second World War, while John worked at Bletchley, Ardkinglas, supervised by his wife Elizabeth, became home to evacuees from Glasgow. Subsequently, John became active in promoting the arts in Scotland, becoming Chairman of both the Scottish Craft Centre and Edinburgh Tapestry Company. Another of his enthusiasms was in organising musical weekends at Ardkinglas.

But although an outstanding place for entertainment and for young families to grow up, times were moving on fast and it rapidly became apparent that a more practical, commercial approach to living in the Highlands was required.

When the late Johnny Noble inherited the estate from his father in 1972, he soon realised this and, in a stroke of genius, seized upon making use of the natural resources of the loch. In a joint venture with Andy Lane, a fish farmer and biologist, the estate began to grow oysters from seed. With a purpose-built smokehouse, the project rapidly developed into a thriving business sending fresh oysters, smoked salmon, venison and kippers all over the world. In 1988, the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar was opened in converted farm buildings on the far side of loch.

Success soon led to similar restaurants being opened in England, and the founding of the Loch Fyne Restaurant chain, a separately owned business using the brand name under license. When Johnny Noble died in 2002, Loch Fyne Oysters, with its mussel farms and smokehouses at Cairndow, was bought over by its employees.

However, David Sumsion continues to own the land around the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and, with retail manager Neil Colburn, runs the adjacent Tree Shop, Café and Garden Centre. Located immediately on the A83, this makes both enterprises an unavoidable stopping off spot for traffic heading up and down Loch Fyne between Glasgow, Inveraray and Kintyre, no doubt enhanced by the legend of two British politicians, John Prescott and Gordon Brown, meeting in the car park after the late Labour leader John Smith's memorial service on Iona in 2004, and sealing the fate of the post Tony Blair Labour leadership.

At Cairndow, just within the entrance gates to Ardkinglas House, is the 35 acre Woodland Garden, which includes the recently instated Gruffalo Trail. A blaze of spectacular rhododendrons throughout the summer, it is also home to one of the finest collection of conifers in Britain including the ‘Mightiest Conifer in Europe.’

Not only that, but potentially the tallest tree in Britain standing over 64.28 metres tall. Popular with walkers throughout the year, Red and Roe deer otters, foxes, wild cats, badgers, and native red squirrels inhabit the trails and pathways. Guided walks and Landrover trips can also be arranged.

With guided tours of Ardkinglas House by arrangement, and being ideal as a backdrop for filming, wedding receptions and private functions, there is, in addition, a self-contained two-bedroom holiday flat available for let in the original Butler's Quarters. This sleeps up to five and has its own private entrance.

There is so much that is seductive about the scale of the vistas in the tangled mass that is Argyllshire. With its surrounding mountains and forests, and loch side presence, Ardkinglas truly is a rich Edwardian's holiday dream, but happily now one that can be easily shared.

Visitor Information

Ardkinglas House
Cairndow, Argyll PA26 8BG.
Tel:+44 (0) 1499 600 261

Tree Shop
Garden Centre, Gift Shop & Coffee Shop
Cairdow, Argyll PA26 8BL.
Tel: +44 (0) 1499 600 263

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